Note: You’ll want to play through the third episode of The Walking Dead before reading this.
Choice in videogames is in vogue, and Telltale’s Walking Dead adaptation, now already in it’s third episode, is starting to payoff on the “tailored game experience” they promised players. ”Live with the profound and lasting consequences of the decisions you make in each episode,” the game’s advertising boasts.
What Telltale doesn’t advertise is that you are in fact powerless when other people in your party make choices. Episode Three reveals that collective and individual sin – betrayal and insufficient means of justice – are something a community must deal with together.
The player is given dialogue options during the game’s most intense encounters. As the shouting escalates, guns are drawn, and zombies close in, I plead, beg and physically lash out to make my intentions known. I made my choice, took a stance, and watched horrified as another character killed the person I was trying to protect.
I have never felt so helpless in a video game. My first impulse was to reload my save, until I realized I didn’t know what to do differently. I was silent, and then I spoke.
“What the hell??”
The no nonsense leader, Lilly, takes matters into her own hands when a fellow survivor is accused of stealing supplies. ”Someone has to make the hard choices,” she insists after shooting my favorite character in the head.
My choice was not between good and evil. Instead I could only decide how to live with someone else’s choice. I felt the consequences of someone else’s wrongdoing. Sin is like an infectious disease. It can spread decay quickly and efficiently, destroy a small community, and rip apart a family. It’s the ultimate betrayal, the greatest danger to a community.
This is the great experiment of Episode 3. The game drops you into a small community and adds a traitor to the mix. As the game’s protagonist, Lee, I take the law into my own hands when supplies go missing, tasked with procuring evidence to bring the guilty party to judgment. While your investigation proves there is indeed a traitor in your midst, everything goes wrong when the group’s self-appointed leader becomes judge and executioner without proof of guilt.
The wages of sin is death.
I wasn’t the only person upset. Disgusted at the death sentence, the community unceremoniously turns our leader into a prisoner. Her judgment returns to fall on her head. Angry, confused and numb, I decide to lock her in the RV. She steals it. Even my righteous justice, my choice to spare her life bites me in the ass.
Later we discover that an innocent person has been killed in place of the guilty. The real culprit feels no relief, wracked with remorse, leaving him an unstable mess, no help to anyone. At every turn, the game suggests that sinful people are lousy at bringing about justice or making things right.
One time Jesus suggested that the person without sin earns the right to begin a stoning. There was no stoning that day.
In the world of the walking dead, where the very DNA of humanity is becoming uniformly monstrous, no one is innocent. Everything good and beautiful is stolen away, and even little girls must learn to survive the horror.
Protecting Clementine may be the only shot at redemption for a convicted criminal like protagonist Everett Lee, but at what cost? In the first two episodes I shielded my ward from harm, I took on the responsibility of violence, killing zombies and cupping my hands over her eyes to protect her innocence. In the third episode, I taught Clementine to shoot a gun.
“Aim for the head,” I gently suggest to the little girl.
There are no innocents in Zombie land, not even one.